Philosophy & Religious Studies

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Palgrave Communications

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© 2015, Palgrave Macmillan Ltd. All rights reserved. The discipline of philosophical hermeneutics, which has played a crucial role in the discipline of New Testament studies, is haunted by the Holocaust. While there has been a great deal of Heidegger scholarship on the interface of Heidegger’s Nazi engagement and his thought, such scholarly focus has been lacking in the larger field of hermeneutics. Current hermeneutical theorists have not explored the various ways that hermeneutical theorists may be responding to the Holocaust. This paper seeks to rectify this scholarly lacuna by drawing attention to what is largely unspoken in hermeneutical theory. My argument examines one particularly important strain of hermeneutical thinking should be seen as a response to fascism and genocide: the critique of instrumental rationality. I look at three seminal sets of scholars: Heidegger, Gadamer and the Frankfurt School. The three sets of thinkers share remarkably similar views about the ills of modernity and a remarkably similar philosophical narrative on how these ills came about. In this grand narrative, current political or social problems are surface symptoms of a deeper spiritual crisis produced by the Enlightenment. The bulk of the paper consists of a reading of central elements of the thought of Heidegger, Gadamer and the Frankfurt School. This reading demonstrates that, for each, the critique of instrumental rationality represents their fundamental approach to confronting fascism and genocide. In the course of the analysis, I identify the limitations of this approach as both a ground for an ontological approach to interpretation and a theoretical response to the problems of fascism and genocide. If hermeneutics wishes to confront the Holocaust, then it needs to allow the Holocaust to become the explicit rather than implicit horizon and, thereby, to allow the emergence of a new set of questions that will produce a new turn in the hermeneutical dialogue. This paper is published as part of a thematic collection dedicated to radical theologies.




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